The Detroit Lions announced a series of moves on Monday, confirming earlier reports, comments from coach Dan Campbell, and making another move that could indicate a shift in offensive philosophy over the back half of the season.
Monday morning it was reported that the Lions would be releasing tight end Darren Fells after he requested to be let out of his contract. Campbell confirmed this at his Monday afternoon press conference, also mentioning the team would be signing rookie tight end Brock Wright from their practice squad to the active roster in a corresponding move. The Lions made this official a few hours later.
Additionally, the Lions opened up another spot on their active roster by releasing slot receiver Tom Kennedy. Kennedy has been on the team’s 53-man roster all season, but he’s only made four game appearances and played in just 35 offensive snaps. He has a single reception for 15 yards—a garbage time catch against the Bengals—and four kick returns for a 22.3 average.
This leaves the Lions with an open spot on the active roster… BUT WAIT… before you go order your Odell Beckham Jr. Lions jersey, Campbell also noted earlier today that the Lions were not interested in bringing in the veteran receiver.
It’s unclear what the Lions’ plans are at receiver going forward, but the unit could use some spark to it after struggling for most of the season. Two weeks ago in Los Angeles, only two receivers caught passes: Kalif Raymond (six receptions for 115 yards) and KhaDarel Hodge (one reception for three yards). Last week it was even worse with Amon-Ra St. Brown being the only receiver to catch a pass (three receptions for 46 yards).
“I think we need to look long and hard at St. Brown,” Campbell said. “There, for example, are there things that we can use him, that we can do that really will help him help us. Maybe that’s the best way to put it.”
On Monday, St. Brown revealed that the team approached him about playing more outside receiver—the Z position—going forward.
“They mentioned maybe playing me more at Z,” St. Brown said. “So (I) might be playing more Z moving forward. I’ll obviously still (be) in the slot, but playing a little more outside receiver.”
Thus far, St. Brown has played 294 of his 355 offensive snaps in the slot, per PFF. He is currently third on the team in receptions—behind tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift—but he only has 250 receiving yards.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to go make plays,” St. Brown said of his new responsibilities. “I know I’m ready, and like I said, I’m excited.”
Raymond has started at WR-X most of the season and with St. Brown in line to get more looks at WR-Z, along with the release of Kennedy (the only other slot receiver on the roster) it’s very possible we are seeing a shift in the Lions’ offensive philosophy for the back half of the season.
If the Lions do essentially eliminate the wide receiver slot position from their base formation (obviously they will still use a slot when the need calls for one), it’s possible the Lions will show more 21 (two running backs and one tight end) and 22 personnel sets. This would put D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams on the field together more often, an approach that saw success earlier in the season.
In addition to the moves listed above, the Lions also announced that they are placing rookie wide receiver Javon McKinley on the practice squad injured reserve list. This move, along with Wright being promoted, gives the Lions two open spots on the practice squad. If he clears waivers, Kennedy seems like a logical player to fill one of those spots, but there are no indicators at this time about who could fill the other.